Want A World Full of Reckless Idiots? A Culture of Bailouts Will Work Pretty Well
The Federal Reserve and government regulators are largely propping up the lifestyles not of the middle class in general, but of various individuals who made choices that turned out badly and prefer not to live with the consequences. These include people who bought houses they now can't afford, executives at banks such as Bear Stearns and people who invested in reckless institutions like Fannie Mae.
Only a small number of these people are blameworthy.
Most simply made reasonable choices that didn't turn out very well. But people make reasonable choices that don't turn out very well all the time, and we don't bail them out. What about the people who bought SUVs just before the prices of those vehicles fell? Should they get bailouts? Should the government reimburse everyone who made the mistake of "upgrading" to Microsoft's Windows Vista?
When you shield people from great risks, you deny them the opportunity to earn great rewards. The culture of bailouts raises the price of risky assets, which makes it harder to get rich by buying them. We all have different risk tolerances, so it's a good thing that the market offers a great range of options.
When you make the riskiest assets less risky (and simultaneously less lucrative), you reduce that range of options. At the same time, you dilute the incentive for shareholder oversight, which leads to lower productivity, lower incomes and lower wages. In the long run, that's no favor to anybody.
~Steven Landsburg in today's LA Times
MP: If you make the world safe for idiots (and reckless borrowers, investors and executives), you'll create a world full of idiots (reckless borrowers, investors and executives).